Spain’s Leisure-Time Reading Is Up 5.7 Points in 10 Years

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The new ‘Barometer of Reading Habits’ in Spain sees younger readers, especially ages 15 to 18, increasing their engagement with books.

Reading on a phone in El Espinar. A finding of Spanish publishers’ new ‘barometer’ on the nation’s reading is that men continue to lag women significantly in ‘the habit of reading,’ although digital formats are holding their own. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Alexey Bakharev

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

In its presentation for today’s news (February 28), the Federación de Gremios de Editores de España (Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain, FGEE) is signaling that young people are showing the greatest uptake among Spanish readers, with those aged 10 to 14 and 15 to 18 registering the biggest gains.

Needless to say, this is heartening news from this  year’s Barometer of Reading Habits and Book Purchases in Spain, a report on 2022 industry statistics.  It’s prepared by the federation with the sponsorship of the Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos (Spanish Reproduction Rights Center, CEDRO) and in collaboration with the ministry of culture and sports. Conecta is again the research provider here.

Among those young readers between 15 and 18, the program’s analysis cites an 11.8-point rise in “frequent reader” activity in the past 10 years. And overall, the free-time reading rate in Spain is up 5.7 percentage points in 10 years.

Frequent readers, in the report’s terminology are those who say they read books at least once a week. That part of the population remained at 52 percent in 2022. The federation points out, “There is still a significant percentage of Spaniards—35.2 percent—who say they never or almost never read, although that percentage has fallen in the last 10 years.

Among other points detected in the 2022 study is an indication that of “imbalances in reading rates between autonomous communities,” meaning between men and women and between generations. As in many international publishing markets, “The percentage of women reading in their spare time is significantly higher than that of men in all age groups, differences that have been maintained in the last 10 years.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers know that gender imbalance is persistent in many, if not most, markets and yet publishers, for the most part, have yet to respond with specific promotion of reading to male consumers.

Comparative trends among Spain’s readers by age, gender, educational level, and region. Image: Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain, FGEE

Fernández: ‘Closer to the European Averages’

An interesting note for those who follow the question of print vs. digital formats, Spain’s study sees reading in digital formats remaining stable, with some 29.5 percent of the surveyed population aged 14 or older reporting that they read digitally at least once per quarter. The percentage of those who say they pay for digital books, however, seems to be decreasing at 39 percent.

As much as 66.3 percent of respondents say they download their digital reads, and some of them without paying. And yet 67 percent of those respondent told the study’s team that they know when a download is not legal. This is significant, of course, because the going assumption in many cultures has been that many consumers simply don’t realize that free digital content may be pirated and don’t know they’re procuring such products illegally.

Overall, however, the federation is pleased to have found that after the 2020 increase in readership as the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic began to assert its full force, that trend was “consolidated in 2021 and continued to grow in 2022,” if modestly, when the engagement of younger readers was tracked most clearly.

In a comment on today’s news, federation president Daniel Fernández looks at Spain’s performance in comparison to that of other European Union member states.

Daniel Fernández

“Little by little,” he says, “the overall reading figures in Spain are getting closer to the European averages.

“It’s a reality that there are age groups and geographical areas in which they are fully comparable with the countries around us. However, we maintain a third of our population that has no reading among its activities.

“It’s everyone’s task to work to reduce these figures, while also improving the percentages of frequent readers with figures significantly higher than 50 percent.”

As mentioned, since 2012, the report indicates, the leisure-time reading rate in Spain has grown by 5.7 percentage points (from 57.9 percent to 64.8 percent). If focusing exclusively on those frequent readers—those who say they read at least once a week—we get that “stable” 52.5 percent of the responding population. “But it has grown by 5.3 percentage points in the last 10 years,” the researchers write, while “occasional readership has practically remained the same throughout these years” at 0.4 percentage points.

Leisure-time reading reported by survey respondents in Spain. Image: Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain, FGEE

What the Non-Readers Are Doing

Another interesting part of the report looks at why respondents to the research say they don’t read.

  • “Spaniards who do not have a reading habit,” the program writes, “argue that the lack of free time is their main reason for not reading books,” at 44 percent of respondents who say they don’t read.
  • Some 30.6 percent indicate that they prefer to use their free time in other entertainment that’s not reading, “such as walking, resting, or watching series or films.
  • And then 29.3 percent of the self-declared non-readers expressed a lack of interest in reading, with just 0.9 percent saying they don’t read for reasons of health issues or compromised vision.

Reasons cited for not reading. Image: Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain, FGEE

And in audiobooks, recent discussion has been aggressively upbeat about the development potential of audio in Spain and other Spanish-language markets.

The federation’s report is certainly upbeat on the format, but not perhaps at the “sky’s the limit” level to match others’ enthusiasm.

“Regarding audiobooks,” the new barometer reads, “in 2022 the number of users stabilized and 5.4 percent of the population said they listened to audiobooks at least once per quarter. The percentage of users of this type of content is much higher among those under 35 years of age.”

Image: Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain, FGEE

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Spanish market is here, and more on world publishing’s industry statistics is here. And more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing—which is the basis for the patterns of readership Spain’s federation is following since 2020—is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.